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What's the difference between a 3D and 4D ultrasound?

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Updated March 26, 2013

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Baby Picking Nose at 33 Week Ultrasound

A 3D image of baby at 33 weeks picking its nose.

Photo © Paige
Question: What's the difference between a 3D and 4D ultrasound?
About 70% of women will have an ultrasound done in pregnancy. As the newer imaging technologies become available in ultrasound, you might hear various terms thrown around like 2D, 3D and 4D.
Answer: There are differences in the types of ultrasounds done in pregnancy. The old standard was a 2D or 2 dimensional image. In recent years this has been replaced with the new 3D or three dimensional images and now 4D.

2D ultrasound give you outlines and flat looking images, but can be used to see the internal organs of the baby. This is helpful in diagnosing heart defects, issues with the kidneys and other internal issues. The 3D images are used to show you three dimensional external images which may be helpful in diagnosing issues such as a cleft lip. What 4D ultrasound brings to the table is that as the image is continuously updated, it becomes a moving image, like a movie.

Here are some examples:

Sources:

About GE 4D Ultrasound. http://www.gehealthcare.com/usen/ultrasound/education/products/cme_3d4d.html. Last accessed 1/31/11.

Ultrasound: Then & Now. http://www.gehealthcare.com/usen/patient/ultrasound/ultra_thennow.html. Last accessed 1/31/11.

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